Snowbirds in the Southwest
By Jeff Hale, Hunters Cathy Hale and Jeff Hale
In February, my wife, Cathy, and I chose to hunt the desert of southern Arizona, chasing collared peccary, more commonly called javelina. We hunted with outfitter Steven Ward near Willcox, Arizona. This is “high desert” of around 4,000 feet in elevation, which actually sees snowfall. Unfortunately for us snowbirds, we arrived just in time for a major winter storm. In response to the weather, the local javelinas were holed up and difficult to find. Hunting them on that first day was virtually pointless, but we gave it a go anyway. Visibility was nil, so glassing wasn’t an option. We tried walking them up in creek bottoms but to no avail. By the end of a long day, we had seen nothing but a straggly pack of coyotes.
By morning, the skies had cleared. We hiked to a hilltop and spent a couple of chilly hours glassing for the little pigs. However, the cold temperatures were still affecting their movements and there were none to be found. We continued that process throughout the morning.
We were en route to a new area when Steven suddenly shouted, “Pigs!” The small herd was moving quickly, and we rushed to close the distance. I was first up to shoot. When they suddenly came into view, I was thrilled by the unfamiliar sight of their boxy, black shapes shifting through the cover. A few darted across a small opening, but the window was brief and I declined the running shot. We continued to track the herd until we felt the wind at our backs and realized it was probably useless to continue after this particular group. Up to this point, Cathy and I had been enjoying ourselves, glad to be in new country and glad to be hunting. Now with pigs sighted and a stalk under our belts, our adventure had turned the corner into fun.
We moved to another location and immediately found another herd. This time, it was Cathy’s turn. Again, the javelinas were travelling and we had to move quickly to get on them. Steven hustled Cathy along in an effort to keep the wind and get even with our quarry. Along the way, he picked up a dead branch to use as a makeshift shooting stick. The javelinas were crossing in front of us, unaware and walking slowly. We assumed a crouched and ready position as Steven vertically planted the stick and Cathy grasped it with the fore end of her .257 Roberts laid over her wrist. The next pig to appear was a large and worthy target. When it cleared the mesquite at about 80 yards, Cat made the shot and her javelina was down!
There was that familiar moment of hunter’s elation. Cat and I savored it by familiarizing ourselves with the animal she had just taken. We ran our hands across the coarse bristles and noted the white band that gives a collared peccary its name. As is often the case in hunting, a different day is all that’s required for a change of fortune.
The day was waning when we glassed another herd. Knowing time was of the essence, Cathy elected to stay back. We knew the herd was close by, so we moved gingerly. One by one, the javelinas appeared on the slope in front of us. We closed the distance until we got within range of a large pig. I sat down for the shot and cradled the Ruger between my knees. When it came clear of the brush, I took my first javelina.
During the remainder of our stay, we spent some time calling coyotes and shooting a few jackrabbits, which was just as much fun as hunting javelina. Mostly, we soaked up as much Arizona sunshine as we could, enough for a couple of northern snowbirds to go home sporting a tan.